We probably should’ve seen it coming. Last Wednesday, at the inaugural city council meeting of the 2022-2026 term, John Tory’s final term as mayor of Toronto, he assured us, serious as a heart attack this time, he assured us, during his opening speech addressing the strong mayoral powers, parts one & deux, the first we knew about, it being provincially legislated during the municipal campaign earlier this year, the second, out of the blue, after the election had taken place, additional strong powers, still making their way through the legislative process at Queen’s Park in the form of Bill 39, additional strong powers that John Tory himself had secretly requested of Doug Ford, during the campaign and which he didn’t think necessary to reveal to the voting public until after he’d been re-elected. In fact, John Tory didn’t inform the public. Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, did in taking questions from the press. Continue reading
Tag Archives: Speaker Frances Nunziata
A Terrible Plan Made Even Worse
Adding insult to injury that is the oozing sore of transit plans, the Scarborough subway, the Toronto Star’s Jennifer Pagliaro reported today that, according city council rules, the vote to revert from the already underway LRT eastern extension of the Bloor-Danforth line to a subway never should have occurred in the first place.
In the end, [Speaker] Nunziata ignored advice from city staff and ruled the motion [to re-open the LRT/subway debate] was properly before council. It passed with a 35-9 vote — opening the door for Ford and others to ultimately cancel plans for the LRT in favour of the more expensive subway option.
This, after a 24 hour scramble that had seen the speaker first stop the motion’s mover, Councillor Glenn DeBaeremaeker, from moving the motion on procedural grounds, then agreeing to rule on it later and seeking help from the mayor’s office in wording the ruling she would subsequently give that ultimately re-opened the debate.
But city clerk Watkiss told the Star the speaker is only permitted to give rulings she herself or the clerk has written. She also said the city’s procedural bylaws set out that the Speaker must give procedural reasons for her ruling.
“The [then mayor Rob Ford’s then chief of staff] Towhey ruling was not a proper procedural ruling, but a policy ruling, and the Speaker needs to give procedural rulings,” Watkiss wrote in an email. “She should not be ruling on the basis of policy as she needs to maintain a measure of independence.”
Still Speaker Nunziata’s response to that?
“Council procedures dictate that while the speaker may consult with the Clerk prior to ruling on a matter, it is ultimately the speaker who decides the way in which he/she will rule.”
Rules? M’eh. Whatever.
While it should not be overlooked that, despite the very questionable manner in which it came about, city council could’ve voted to keep the Scarborough subway debate closed, and chose instead to re-open it , overwhelmingly so, we should perhaps be even more alarmed at how easily rules and procedures at city council can be discarded and ignored.
Is that simply the price that gets paid living in a free-wheeling democracy? Our elected officials are the ultimate decision-makers and the civil service, the bureaucracy, sits in place merely to advise not instruct? When the chips are down, a true democracy cannot be hamstrung by the rules and procedures — not put in place but adjudicated by – unelected officials?
I don’t have an answer to any of these questions. It seems to me that if rules and procedures are being contravened, those in charge of upholding them, in this case the city clerk staff, should be in a position to, at the very least, make loud noises that the rules and procedures are being violated, if not stop the violations dead in their tracks. You can’t do that, Madam/Mister Speaker.
Does that overstep unspoken boundaries, undercutting the democratic process?
More clear, perhaps, is that the position of Speaker (and Deputy Speaker, natch) at city council ought not to be left in the hands of the mayor’s office to appoint. As it stands now, like chairs of standing committees, the Speaker of city council is put forward by the mayor and pretty much rubber-stamped by a city council vote. It is extremely difficult to remove them once they’re in place.
If, as the current speaker believes, it is the role of the speaker to ultimately decide “the way in which he/she will rule”, maybe their allegiance shouldn’t be owed to the one person who put them in place, the mayor, but to the wider body, city council itself. “In order to maintain a measure of independence,” as city clerk Ulli Watkiss suggested, the speaker needs to answer directly to city council not via the mayor’s office. Why not have city council truly elect a speaker (and deputy speaker, natch) rather than simply sign off on the mayor’s recommendation?
It’s hard to imagine how anyone in the position of speaker could ‘maintain a measure of independence’ while looking over their shoulder at the mayor who put them in the job, a mayor who can assume the speaker’s chair whenever the fancy strikes them. So it should come as no surprise that, in this particular case, the speaker actually went to the mayor’s office for help in writing a ruling. If your view of the job you’re doing is to act as a mouthpiece, why not get your instructions directly from the horse’s mouth?
Whose interest does the speaker of city council represent, the mayor’s office or city council itself? The answer to that will determine who you think should really be running the city.
— searchingly submitted by Cityslikr
Taking Care Of Business
Here was my first reaction:
City council must act with blazing fury… Actually, the first reaction was:
City council must act with blazing furry. Funnier, but didn’t take me in the direction I wanted to go.
City council must act with blazing fury to counter the growing perception that Toronto is on political fire, gridlocked, mismanaged and manhandled. It isn’t true. People shouldn’t think it is.
The mayor’s office is clearly dysfunctional. Order has broken down. Despite their best attempts to give off the air of business as usual, with his daily press conferences – in themselves unusual for the normally media averse mayor – touting policy initiatives from 2011, there’s a manic desperation to the show. As you were. Nothing to see here, folks. Folks.
Unfortunately, the disarray is being extrapolated on to the wider council. Civic governance has broken down. The premier of the province has expressed concern and is monitoring the situation. Dark talk of dissolving council and control being taken by Queen’s Park.
“Quite honestly,” Councillor John Parker told the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat on Friday, “as I said all along, one person in this building has a problem but that doesn’t translate to the rest of us.”
“My work goes on, the work of my colleagues goes on, the work of the city goes on and whether the mayor is part of it or not should be a matter of concern to him but frankly it is not a matter of concern to me.”
While that may be overly sanguine of Councillor Parker, the mayor’s office does possess enough procedural oomph to throw up roadblocks and drag the governance process out, the business of city running is being conducted even in the dark shadow cast by the mayoral tumult. That’s the way it is, how our system works. Everything’s fine.
But it’s doesn’t seem that way to the wider public. It’s not just the mayor who’s looking like a bumbling, country bumpkin. The ability to govern ourselves is being held up to question.
Maybe I’m allowing myself to get caught up in the frenzy but I’d like to see the council step up with a flagrant display of authority. Go all Alexander Haig on the mayor’s ass by declaring who exactly is in control here. Make a point of very visibly pushing Mayor Ford to the sidelines. Officially state what is already the de facto situation at City Hall.
How exactly to do that?
Remove the chairs of a couple of the big committees like Budget and Public Works and Infrastructure. Re-configure the committee membership to better reflect the wider will of the council. Erase any stamp the mayor now has on them.
And next council meeting put forth a motion to remove Speaker Frances Nunziata from her position. Aside from the mayor and his brother, no one exemplifies the aggressively partisan and divisive nature of city council more than the speaker. Dumping her and elevating Deputy Speaker Parker to the position would set a much more civil, productive tone than we’ve been witness to for the past two and a half years.
It would go a long way to establishing a post-Ford era that in many ways has already happened.
Yeah anyway, turns out such machinations are much harder in reality than they are in my ever hopeful (and not a little bit spiteful) imagination.
Reading through the Toronto Municipal Code Council Procedures, it seems what little extra power the office of the mayor has is pretty ironclad. Even a super-majority of councillors (30) cannot simply undo what a mayor has done in terms of appointments. There doesn’t seem to be a mechanism to replace committee chairs or members once they are in place. (Although I am curious to know how the TTC commission putsch took place and all the Ford allies removed last year. Perhaps because it’s a commission and not a committee, and the rules are slightly different.)
The one intriguing possibility is in removing the council speaker. A two-thirds majority can vote to replace the speaker and nominate someone else but the mayor has ultimate veto power. So I envisioned this scenario where council turfs Councillor Nunziata from the speaker’s chair but Mayor Ford refuses to sign off on any replacement. This continues until council meets where, in an official speaker’s absence, the mayor would have to chair the meeting.
Oh, the possibilities. Mayor Ford stuck in the speaker’s chair for an entire meeting unless he wanted to hand over the duties to Deputy Speaker Parker. A backdoor triumph for the council rebellion.
On the other hand, such a state of affairs could simply heighten a sense of inoperable gridlock. A sager sage than I also pointed out the favourable optics for the mayor in this case. Once more under siege by those ignoring the democratic will of the people of Toronto, it would feed into the already ample persecution complex of the mayor and his supporters. His outsider status further accentuated.
Better to just carry on and conduct business as usual. “…the work of the city goes on,” as Councillor Parker said, “and whether the mayor is part of it or not should be a matter of concern to him but frankly it is not a matter of concern to me.” When all is said and done, Mayor Ford is just one vote and if he fails to use what power he’s been granted to marshal a majority of council behind him, well, that’s all on him. He’ll have to explain his failure to the voters in 2014.
But might I suggest city council recognize the extraordinary circumstances it’s found itself in and go a little further than simply ‘business as usual’? Be bold in the power that it has to go beyond the mayor’s obstructionist intent. Craven votes like last month’s transit funding debacle only help feed into the growing sense that nothing productive is being done. Mayor Ford brought council down to his level on that.
It’s time for council to step up and distinguish itself from the mess that is the mayor’s office now. Lead don’t simply react. Accept the fact the mayor no longer commands the authority to lead the city (and view with suspicion any councillor pretending that he still does) and assume the leadership void.
That can be done simply, one vote at a time.
— BTOly submitted by Cityslikr